Like Santa Fe, all I knew about Denver was that it was called Denver. In deference to its surroundings I always imagined a low-slung town, fields leading away to the jagged mountainscape. Wandering into an unexpected city in my path, I discover it is in fact huge. A Harley rider sets me on back course to Boulder as I wind my way through the massive concrete thoroughfares.
I get into Boulder and wander around footwise, eventually cruising along with a guy who’s using a makeshift fishing rod with a cup on the end to solicit change; he gives me the lowdown on this expensive but low key student town. We wander past a poet on demand, origami artist, fortune teller, masseuse, all doing way better than my friend, even if they share the same boardwalk. The other kids sitting with their sad looking dogs and ragged clothes don’t seem to have caught on to the lesson there yet.
The original plan was to join my host for the Glow Bike Ride, but that would have involved avoiding detours. My modus operandi favours adapting plans than more than sticking to them, but even I’m surprised how well the red string of fate guides me: When I spot a couple of girls in bikinis covered in glitter and glow paint I chance asking if either of them know Sarah – “That’s me!” the one with the pink wig, bugeye 80’s shades, and giant smile answers. Who wouldn’t be smiling after riding through the bicycle-choked streets of Boulder with a hundred and fifty other glowing, laughing bon-vivants?
After some drinks with the blindingly technicolour crew we crash for the night at her place. But first, a much-needed shower. There are so many shoes hanging from the bathroom door it doesn’t even close. The way complete strangers open up their doors to me with no reservations is a humbling display of generosity and trust.
The next day I monkey around the nearby cliffs before returning Sarah’s key and moving onward. The Rocky Mountain National Park sounds like a fun route to Utah.
First, massive elk out on the plains. Then, the tree line drops away and the clouds thicken around me as I climb higher and higher. Reminds me of riding in Vietnam – sharp switchbacks, squinting to try and discern any signs of incoming traffic, wiping moisture off the visor. At least this time I have rain gear.
I’d planned on going right through the mountains in one day, but the quality of the ride compels me to slow down and savour the experience.
Eventually the sun begins to set, and I find a spot by a river where I can set up my hammock. It’s cold as a witch’s tit out here; boiled rice serves as much to heat me as feed me. My eyes are teary from trying to eat a fire pepper some Natives gifted me on the way here, and I’m tired, so tired that I decide that all my moto gear plus rain clothes should keep me as warm as a sleeping pad.
It’s well over 2200 meters above sea level here. The temperature drops steadily, sapping my body heat until I have to get out of hammock, inflate the insulation pad, and put on layers just in case. Stripping to your skivvies to slip on long johns at 2A.M. in the mountain cold is not fun. I take another bite of the fire pepper in case it might help. No dice.
I wake up cold and tired, making my way to a town called Leadville where a fruitless attempt at warming up with coffee at least leads to a meeting with fellow rider who maps out a suggested route.
The road winds higher and higher, past fractured mountains, up to Independence Pass, the continental divide at 12,100 feet. Still, the sierra reaches higher, so I accept the challenge and peel off the moto gear. Optimistically, I start running up to the peak – making it maybe five hundred meters before my legs threaten to go on strike. The steep part hasn’t even started yet. At least I’m not cold anymore.
Onward, each summit leads to another, tempting me farther, higher. I do make it, at least an hour later, panting and almost crawling from exhaustion. Somewhere above a raptor circles and pierces the blue skies with its shriek.
My racing pulse is the only sound here apart from the wind. The barren peaks are spread out before me like waves stretching out as far as I can see. I rest and try to drink it all in, a view of the world like I’ve never seen before. A privilege that simply makes me thirst for more.
It’s a feeling similar to ownership – now that I know them like this, intimately, I can think of these mountains as something like mine. That’s what I get to take away from this; when the memories fade the camaraderie with these places will remain, waiting to bring a knowing smile to my face the next time I see them in photos – or should my path lead me back here, in person.
The wind is inescapable up here. Untiringly beating against the lichen-covered rocks, it whips around my intrusion and pursues me all the way back to my motorcycle and reality.